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Chemical vs Physical Sunscreen

Chemical vs Physical Sunscreen photo. Picture of sunscreen tube with cream in the shape of a sun.

You’ve probably heard the words ‘chemical’ & ‘physical’ thrown around when looking into sunscreen, but you might not have looked into it too much. Or you might not know which is best to use on your skin. As sunscreen is extremely important, I’ve broken it down into little facts so you can get in the know ready for a burns-free summer!

  • So the first main difference is that chemical sunscreens absorb into the skin when applied. It will then absorb any UV rays, convert them to heat, then release them from the body. Physical sunscreen actually sits on top of your skin & just reflects the suns rays.
  • The main ingredients of physical sunscreen are titanium dioxide & zinc oxide, whereas the main ingredients of chemical sunscreen are avobenzone, octinoxate & oxybenzote.
  • Physical sunscreen can be known as ‘sun block.’
  • Chemical sunscreen will need to be applied at least twenty minutes before going out into the sun. With physical sunscreen, your skin is protected as soon as you’ve applied it, so you can go outside immediately. Physical sunscreen is also safe to use during pregnancy.
  • Physical sunscreens are better for sensitive skin as they are hypoallergenic. Chemical sunscreens however are actually easier to mix with other products if you are planning to apply layers.
  • Less product is needed with chemical sunscreen. You do need a generous layer and a more frequent application with physical sunscreen.
  • Chemical sunscreen can clog pores & cause breakouts – so be mindful of this if you suffer with acne/spots anyway.

You should use at least factor 30 when going out in the sun – but if you can’t bring yourself to go that high, at least use that on your face! Look for a broad specrum sunscreen when shopping around – this will protect you from both UVA & UVB rays. Lastly, don’t avoid sunscreen just because you suffer with acne/spots/breakouts. There’s plenty on the market aimed at this, & they won’t make it worse! Some of them even smooth out the appearance of your skin!

My personal favourites are physical sunscreens – for my face at least. They’re non-comedogenic (don’t clog pores) usually & I like the idea that they reflect rays rather than absorbing them at all to begin with. A few sunscreens for ideas:

The sunscreen I currently use – AlumierMD Clear Shield Broad Spectrum SPF 42. It’s aimed at normal/combination/oily skin & even contains niacinamide to sooth redness. It really smoothes out my skin – I wear it alone on no makeup days & it sits amazingly under makeup, it controls oil really well.

I haven’t actually tried this one, but I have used other Drunk Elephant products & loved them, so I had to include it. Again, broad spectrum, only a factor 30 though. Filled with anti-oxidants & oils for ‘a youthful complexion’ & to maintain moisture. Probably not a great one for the oily skinned…

Supergoop – This one really intrigues me – it’s a completely clear sunscreen, again factor 30. It’s advertised that it can be used as a primer too – let me know if you’ve tried this, it looks pretty great!

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